add a print server
Thursday, April 08th, 2010 | Author: Bruce

In the years since Windows Vista and now Windows 7 I have run into many people who have problems with sharing printers on their local area network.  This is often caused by differences in the installed operating systems on their various machines, such as a combination of Windows XP and, say Vista 64-bit or Windows 7 64-bit.  The problem seems to stem from incompatibility issues when you try to set up peer-to-peer printer sharing between machines with very different operating systems.  In a peer-to-peer system the printer is hosted by a specific machine, and that machine may have problems supporting the other operating system’s requests.   I have also seen problems caused by overly restrictive firewall settings.  This seems to be the case more often with 3rd-party firewalls such as McAfee or Symantec/Norton or ZoneAlarm, rather than the stock Windows firewall.

A good solution is to install a mini print server as it is agnostic as to which operating system is sending the data to the printer.  A mini print server is about the size of a deck of cards, and has an ethernet connection which goes to your router, and a USB connection that goes to the printer.  It also has a small A.C. power adapter.  There are also print servers that support the older parallel (Centronics) interface, but these are few and far between as are printers with only a parallel interface.  I’ll assume you have a printer with a USB interface.  An added benefit is that you no longer need to leave a computer running just so that a printer connected to it may be used by others on your network.  The print server consumes negligible power compared to a full computer.

I happen to like the Netgear PS121v2 print server.  I have purchased and installed several over the years.  On eBay they are often listed with a Buy-It-Now price under $17 including free shipping.  The ones I get via eBay at this price are factory refurbished (“brown box”) units, and I suspect that they were returned because the original purchaser didn’t follow installation instructions to the letter.  I have shared old LaserJet printers using this server with client machines running Windows 98SE, Windows Me, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Vista 64-bit, Windows 7 64-bit, Windows Small Business Server 2003 R2,  Windows Server 2008 R2, Mac OS X Snow Leopard, and CentOS Linux – all without difficulty.

There are two ways to install the print server on a local area network.  If you purchase the ‘orange box’ consumer packaging you get a CD with software on it.  For brown box, you may download from Netgear’s site.  However, I don’t recommend it as the software installs a monitor utility on the computer(s) and typically only supports two computers.  The print server can actually support an unlimited number of computers if instead you make use of the embedded LPR server and make use of the LPR interface already  in the operating system.

Unpack the device and connect the power supply, plug the USB cable from the printer into it, and connect the device to your router using a Cat-5 patch cable (not supplied.)   After a few flashes the red LED Error light will go out.  On the bottom of the device you will find a sticker with the model number, serial number, and the MAC address.  The MAC address is a series of 10 hexadecimal characters (0 to 9, A to F) which is a unique identifier for the network adapter within.  Write it down as we will need it in a minute.  When you write it, it is customary to put dashes or colons between every second character, although this is not the way it is displayed on the bottom of the device.

As shipped the device will makes use of DHCP to obtain an IP address.  This is all well and good if you are using the Netgear client software as they find the device via a different mechanism.  But for our purposes, we want to set a static IP address, and to do that we need to know the IP address that the device got when it booted.  To set the IP address of the print server you need to know several things, all easily obtainable.

  • ·The current IP address, so that we may use our web browser to get to the print server’s configuration panel.
  • ·The subnet mask for our local area network.
  • ·The default gateway for your local area network.

To get the current IP address, download and install the free ColaSoft MAC Scanner from www.colasoft.com.  This is a utility which displays the IP address, MAC address, Host Name (if available) and manufacturer of the network interface within a device.  For the PS121v2 the manufacturer is Sercomm.  Write down the IP address that has been assigned to the print server by the DHCP server in your router.

To get the local area network’s subnet mask and default gateway, you will need a DOS command window.

  • ·Windows XP: START -> RUN -> CMD.EXE -> [OK]
  • ·Windows Vista/7 Search -> CMD.EXE -> <enter>

Once you have the command window, type IPCONFIG /ALL  then <enter> – Note space before the /ALL

You may have to scroll back a bit – you want the lines labeled IP Address, Subnet Mask, and Default Gateway.  Make note of the values.  Close the DOS window by typing EXIT then <enter>.

Your Subnet Mask is probably 255.255.255.0.  This means that all devices on the local area network MUST have the same first 3 octets, i.e. if your addresses start with 192.168.1. then ALL addresses must start with 192.168.1

For devices that don’t move, such as desktop PCs, server machines, printers, and print servers etc. I don’t like dynamically assigned IP addresses.  The next step is to permanently assign a “static” IP address to the print server.  Most DHCP servers in consumer routers default to an IP address pool of 192.168.x.100 to 192.168.x.149 where depending upon the manufacturer the ‘x’ is 0 or 1.  I like to put print servers in the range of 192.168.x.240 to 192.168.x.249. (Note: The last octet may have values between 1 and 255, but must not collide with any other device.  You may identify other devices by looking at the ColaSoft MAC Finder screen again.

Here’s how to set the address in the Netgear PS121, other devices are probably very similar.  For discussion purposes, let us assume that the ColaSoft MAC Scanner found the print server at 192.168.1.106.  Open your web server and go to http://192.168.1.106 where you will be asked for a logon and password.  The PS121 logon name is ‘admin’ and the password is ‘password’.  You will now be presented with the control console for the print server.

Click either “TCP/IP” or “LAN Settings” on the left (I’ve seen both on different devices, even though marked v2) to get the ethernet port configuration panel.  Change the device DHCP Client from ‘enabled’ to ‘disabled’.  Put in an IP address that is outside of the pool, such as 192.168.1.240  Reminder: Make sure that the first 3 numbers are consistent with the addresses displayed by the ColaSoft MAC scanner.  Put in the subnet mask (typically 255.255.255.0) and the default gateway (typically 192.168.1.1) and click the APPLY button.  You should see a progress bar move across as the settings are changed.  In about a minute you will get an error message from your browser that the connection was reset.  This is expected as you have changed the address of the print server thus breaking the link from your web browser.  If you want you may re-connect by entering http:// and the new address, but there is no need to do so.

Now that the print server has been set up, you must now go to each of the computers on your network that is to make use of the printer to establish the connection to the print server.  Open up the Printers and Faxes folder.  How to get there varies is slightly different in XP, Vista, and Windows 7 – but should be straight forward.  Click the Add Printer item to start the Add Printer Wizard.

Here is the one part that is definitely not intuitive – as far as the operating system is concerned, you are adding a LOCAL printer even though it could be in another room.  Do NOT have it search for a Plug n Play device as it won’t find it.  In the dialog box select ADD PORT to specify a new port.  Select “Standard TCP/IP port” and continue.  This will start the Add Port Wizard.  In the IP Address field, give it the IP address that you gave to the print server, in our example it was 192.168.1.240.  The wizard will provide a port name consisting of those digits with “IP_” as a prefix.  That’s fine, or alter the name if you wish.  Continue and it will probably say that it can not identify the device – that’s to be expected, we have to give it some additional help.  Continue and you will be returned to the Add Printer Wizard where you specify the make and model of your printer so as to load the appropriate printer driver.  Load the appropriate driver for the OS you are running, i.e. make sure that it is a 64-bit driver if you are running Vista 64-bit or Windows 7 64-bit etc.  For an older printer you may have to go to the manufacturer’s web site to obtain the driver.  When you get to the options page you do not want to share the printer as you aren’t setting it up for peer-to-peer sharing.  You may make it your default printer at your option.  Do NOT select Print a Test Page at this time, we have a few more settings to perform.

When the printer appears in the Printers and Faxes window, right-click on it and select PROPERTIES.  (Note: Windows 7 has TWO items labelled PROPERTIES – one of them brings up a page with PORTS as a tab.  That’s the one you want.)  Click the PORTS tab.  Scroll down and confirm that it is associated with the port that you defined for the print server.  You may have to widen the column by dragging the break in the column header to the right so as to see the full port identifier.  Click the CONFIGURE PORT button.  Change the PROTOCOL from RAW to LPR.   Name the print queue ‘ps121v2′ and put a check in the “LPR Byte Count Enabled” box.  Click OKs until you are out of the printer properties pages.  Now right-click the printer one more time, select PROPERIES and on the GENERAL page click Print Test Page then OK.   You should now be printing via the print server and OS driver incompatibilities or firewall problems should be a thing of the past.

Category: Printing